It’s that wonderful time of year again when Black Skimmer chicks start hatching on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Last weekend my dad and I celebrated a belated Father’s Day with a trip to the colony. Ironically, on our Father’s Day visit, the most common words out of my mouth were, “Dad! Get out of the way!” I wasn’t referring to my dad, of course, but to the proud skimmer dads who brought in nice fish for the chicks and then stood there between me and the baby while the baby ate. Silly birds! :)
I shot hundreds (thousands?) of images, so I’ll likely have several skimmer blog posts in the upcoming weeks. I thought this would be a fun sequence to start them off. The babies were tiny — some had just hatched that morning, and were still wet from the egg. Watching these birds is nothing short of amazing. Who would have thought that black and white birds would have babies that are white? It’s Nature’s way of camouflaging the babies, whose ‘nests’ are mere scrapes in the sand.
Most folks get the biggest chuckle out of watching these birds feed their young. You’d think that tiny babies who are barely strong enough to stand would get tiny fish to eat, right? Not so much! The adult birds bring in needlefish that are just as long as their young offspring. The babies eat them, too! They’ll work the food into their mouth, start to gulp it down, stop and rest for a while, and continue trying until they can finally muster up the final gulp.
I spent a long time observing this little family, with a day-or-two old chick and a just-hatched chick. The parent brought in a needlefish and handed it to the youngest baby. Parents often circle the nesting region several times, trying to distract other hungry babies so that the parent can feed the smaller chicks or the ones who are less greedy.
Well, Big Brother was lying right next to the recent hatchling, and he jumped up as soon as he saw the fish. He didn’t understand why his little brother should get the tasty treat instead of him!
I love how animated the little guys get as they dance for food. The hatchling just sat there for a minute, holding the fish, while his brother demanded his fair share.
A tug of war ensued, with both babies holding onto the fish. As fellow photographer Jim Gray so aptly said on Facebook, it’s been a bad week to be a fish at the skimmer colony!!
The tug of war was settled by the other parent, who instructed the older chick to lie flat. The hatchling was left with the food. The only problem was, he didn’t know what to do with it!
So the other adult reached down, using that huge beak to try to take the fish back. Often the parents will start chewing the food to make it easier for the chicks to swallow. The other parent stood nearby, hovering with her beak in case she needed to help scoop up the food. It’s really amazing to watch these birds with these huge beaks handling the food so gently for their babies. Eventually the baby got the whole fish down. Gulp!
I hope to head back over for another opportunity with these birds this weekend. Here’s hoping for no rain! :)
Want to learn more about nature photography at Black Skimmer Colonies?
Check out my Black Skimmer Colonies page with more information about the location, map, website, photography tips, etc. It is archived by date so you can see my images from previous visits. Maybe you'll be inspired for your own trip!
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